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What Happened After 4th Grade?

I was recently in attendance for Danny Hill and Jason Nave’s presentation on their book, The Power of ICU, a framework and system for equating student’s grades with their actual learning. Novel idea, huh? It’s been called “Failure is not an Option” or the “No Zero Policy” at certain schools, but it really all comes down to eliminating apathy and holding students more responsible for their learning. It’s a VERY controversial topic by the way.

I’ve actually heard/seen Danny and Jason several times now and consider them friends – largely because of the firm belief I have in their mission. In their book and presentation, they mention a starteling fact that I as a 6th grade teacher can’t help but dwell on. In a nutshell, here it is…

Traditionally, the dinner table (ok, maybe now in front of the TV in the living room) is a common place for parents to quiz their kids on the events of the day. Holidays and celebrations invite questions from even aunts, uncles, and grandparents regarding a young child’s education. And the question is different, depending on what the age of the student is. But if you’re not careful, you’ll miss the key word that makes all the difference!

The question is posed early on – say from kindergarten through 3rd grade – “what did you learn today?“. This is because everyone in the room (including the child) understands the emphasis of education; LEARNING. If they don’t learn those letters, numbers, simple subtraction/addition, and beginning stages of science, they’ll fall behind. But somewhere around the 5th grade the question changes to, “what are your grades like?“. You caught the difference. It’s HUGE in terms of our educational system, societal norms, and the way our students percieve their time at school.

If questioned, kids will normally admit they’re at school to learn – and teachers will state they’re here to teach and educate. Yet our grading system (across the nation) doesn’t necessarily always reflect student learning. What is it that happens after 4th grade? Who can we blame for this shift in philosophy?

It’s an interesting topic we should all try to figure out.


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